“Black Swan” follows the story of Nina (Natalie Portman), a ballerina in a New York City ballet company whose life is completely consumed with dance. She lives with her retired ballerina mother Erica (Barbara Hershey) who zealously supports her daughter’s professional ambition. When artistic director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) decides to replace prima ballerina Beth MacIntyre (Winona Ryder) for the opening production of their new season, Swan Lake, Nina is his first choice.
But Nina has competition: a new dancer, Lily (Mila Kunis), who impresses Leroy as well. Swan Lake requires a dancer who can play both the White Swan with innocence and grace, and the Black Swan, who represents guile and sensuality. Nina fits the White Swan role perfectly but Lily is the personification of the Black Swan. As the two young dancers expand their rivalry into a twisted friendship, Nina begins to get more in touch with her dark side with a recklessness that threatens to destroy her.
MoviesOnline sat down with Mila Kunis at the historic Pantages Theatre in Hollywood to talk about her new film. Mila has emerged as one of Hollywood’s most sought-after and engaging young actresses and recently starred opposite Denzel Washington in the Hughes Brothers’ sci fi thriller “The Book of Eli.” She told us what it was like working with visionary director Darren Aronofsky, how she trained for the difficult role, what her strict workout regimen and diet entailed, and how she made up for lost time at Panda Express and In and Out Burger once production wrapped. Here’s what she had to say:
Q: Mila, I know you trained hard for this and had a lot to learn. Your physicality seemed so natural. How did you make it appear so effortless and sensual for this movie?
Kunis: Thank you. It was far from effortless and sensual. It was three months of training beforehand. I was not a ballet dancer. I think most of the training, you can only fake so much, the physicality, and so you have to kind of immerse yourself in this world in a way that somebody walks and talks and handles themselves. So it was three months of training, seven days a week for four or five hours a day before production started and then during production it was pretty much exactly the same.
Q: Were there little details that you picked up along the way that made you feel more like a dancer?
Kunis: Yeah. A lot of things change, your body changes. Okay, here’s the thing about ballet that I never knew about. It’s one of the most physically excruciating sports that I’ve ever been a part of, and I say sports because they train constantly, every single day. So your body changes. Your shoulders drop. Your chest opens up and there’s a certain posture that I naturally don’t have because I slouch. So for three months, every time I had to constantly stand up straight and the way that they hold their arms because they always move their fingers when they’re dancing, that also changes and it also changes the way that they talk in real life and amongst the feet being different because of the ballet stuff. So there are a lot of different things.
Q: You’re known for roles that are very different from this. “The Family Guy,” “That ’70’s Show.” Can you talk about getting cast in this and also how you approached the role once you knew you had it?
Kunis: ‘70’s’ ended about five or six years ago. So it’s been a while. ‘The Family Guy’, yes. This seems like a better question for Darren [Aronofsky]. I don’t know how or why I got hired. I never really asked. I didn’t want him to second guess himself and so I just kind of went with it and I said, ‘All right, if you trust me I’m game.’ So that’s pretty much all it was. It’s probably a better question for Darren, but it was an amazing opportunity which I don’t regret and never want to question. So I thank him everyday for it.
Q: Had you ever seen a full version of “Swan Lake” before you got involved in this process and can you talk about working with Darren?
Kunis: I did not get an opportunity to see a full version of ‘Swan Lake’ until about a year ago. I think that every time I went to see ballet was always a fragment of it, like a ‘Black Swan’ and so I was never able to see it in full length. But working with Darren was truly one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I mean, he’s a brilliant director and it’s a rarity when you come across somebody that you trust so much and you can just immerse yourself in a role and feel like there’s a safety net underneath you in case you fall. So I always looked at Darren as a safety net. He was great. He was absolutely great.
Q: How many same sex scenes have you had in your career and when you do these things do you worry about being exploited by the filmmaker?
Kunis: How many same sex scenes have I done? Well, I did a film called ‘After Sex’ with Zoe Saldana where she played my girlfriend. We never had a sex scene. We had like what occurs after you have sex and so I guess maybe that doesn’t count. So this would be my first, and as far as being exploited I again go back to your question previously about working with Darren. I trusted him. So it’s one of those things where whether you have a same sex scene or a scene with the opposite sex, a sex scene nonetheless there’s always a fear that you’re a little uncomfortable, and so doing something like this with Darren is very safe and as comfortable as something like this could be. So, no. I personally never had a fear of being exploited.
Q: Have you spent any time before here at the Pantages Theater?
Kunis: I have. I shot a movie here two months ago, right outside the theater. Does that count? I’ve seen some shows here. I grew up in L.A. and so I’ve been going to the Pantages since I was nine years old.
Q: What movie were you shooting outside of here?
Kunis: What was I shooting outside? ‘Friends with Benefits’.
Q: There are many realities in the film for the characters. Did you have different direction for those scenes, a different way that you played them or was it all the same?
Kunis: It was the farthest thing from continual. I think that Darren touched on it yesterday, but I think that whenever Natalie [Portman] and I were in the same scene I’m pretty sure that we did it about every which way possible. So whatever she would do I would do the opposite because the truth of the matter is that as much as we worked on the script and as much rehearsal you did you didn’t even know what was going to be played. It was also finicky and you just tried to give as much as you could in every single take and every single take was completely different. So, to answer your question, there was nothing continuous.
Q: Have you ever done a role where you had to go so far into the character that you had to pull yourself back, and if so, what do you do to maintain a balance?
Kunis: I feel like every role that you take you feel or there’s a part of you that obviously feels like you can do it. I don’t know if perfect is the right word because I don’t believe in perfection and I don’t think it exists but I think striving to do something well is in every single part. So, yeah, you go through that. I think this one to me, the physicality of it was probably the hardest of anything that I’ve ever done, I think when it comes to characters. When it’s a comedy or drama or horror or romance, it’s all the same. You want to be honest with the character. You want to play truthfully and you want to be genuine with your character. The physicality aspect of it, that was the closest that I ever came to just complete mental breakdown.
Q: Everybody is talking about how Natalie’s performance is amazing, physically and emotionally, a lot of Oscar talk, but people are saying that about your performance, too, that it’s Oscar worthy. How does that make you feel?
Kunis: It makes me very uncomfortable. You know what, as long as people respond to the film I’m not even going to touch on awards because I can’t. I don’t know. I’m sorry. I have no idea what to say to these type of questions. I think it’s an honor and I think it’s great and if people like it then I couldn’t be any happier. Everything else is just all very new to me.
Q: When you saw the film for the first time, what was your feeling, how did you respond to it?
Kunis: How did I respond to it the first time? I saw it a couple of times. The first time that I saw it, it was very, very, very rough and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s the movie we made?’ Then the final cut that I saw I was blown away by it. I mean I was there and I remembered most of it, I would say, but I had no idea how Darren was shooting it because the way he shoots the camera is really a part of the movie. So you truly forget that there’s a camera there because it a whole other character. And so I was blown away by it and I was there, and so I was like, ‘This is pretty amazing.’
Q: Did you cry when you saw it?
Kunis: Did I cry. No. I’m sorry. I could say yes and lie, but no, I’m not going to cry. I kind of knew how it was going to end. I’m pretty sure that I was there for that scene for twelve hours. It’s embedded in my head. I did not cry. Did you cry?
Q: A little bit.
Kunis: Good. You weren’t there. I’m happy.
Q: Can you talk about how you and Natalie prepared beforehand and got comfortable with doing the intimate scenes that you do in this movie?
Kunis: Well, any time that you do any intimate scene on film it’s going to be a little uncomfortable whether it’s the same sex or opposite sex. I think the great thing about this was that Natalie and I were actually lucky enough to be friends prior to production which made it all a lot easier. We didn’t really discuss it very much. We just kind of did it. It made sense for the character. It wasn’t put in for shock value. It wasn’t something that we needed to justify in our heads as to why we were doing it and that was it, but the truth of the matter is that we were friends before we started it. So with that it made it a lot easier.
Q: You had all this training, a strict workout regimen and diet. How relieved were you when it was all over so that you could go get a pizza?
Kunis: Oh, my God, you have no idea. It took me five months to lose twenty pounds and it took me hours to gain it back. I mean it was magical how quickly it all happened. I think before production ended the last time that I had to do any sort of dancing I literally that night had a massive bowl of mac and cheese. I was so excited. I will tell you that going back to my poor eating habits after having really good eating habits my stomach was a little unsettled, but after production ended the first thing I did was go and get Panda Express at the airport terminal at Virgin America at JFK and I was so excited. Then I landed in L.A. and I got in my car and I drove to In and Out and I had a Double Double Animal Style with a root-beer float and it was fantastic. That is what I did. It was good.
Q: Mila, we see these characters struggle with eating disorders due to the pressure of their art. Have you seen that in Hollywood, people striving to achieve a certain look and falling prey to those pressures?
Kunis: Yeah, I mean both. I think sadly in any industry and in any work related environments females always strive to achieve a certain amount of perfection whether they be skinny or pretty. It’s constant in our society. So I think it’s probably elevated a little bit in the industry that I’m in because everything is a matter of opinion. I can think someone is pretty but the person next to me can think that they’re unattractive. So people strive to achieve a certain form of perfection constantly and it’s impossible because it’s a form of opinion. So, I’ve had a lot of friends that unfortunately get that.
Q: Do you consider yourself a Black Swan or a White Swan and why?
Kunis: I think a little bit of both. I think everyone has a little Black Swan in them. It’s just a matter of when you let it out, but I would say a healthy balance of both. I would hope. I’m not nearly as adventurous as a Black Swan. Not nearly, but at times I would like to be.
“Black Swan” opens in theaters on December 1st.